A Father's Grief
by Maggie M.
Commodore Pellew paced the room. He wished it could have been the quarter deck of the "Indy" and he wished that he had Hornblower and Kennedy safely on board her. Lord, what a mess. What had happened to that bloody idiot Sawyer? He had sent him the two best officers he had ever possessed. Both were now charged with mutiny and one was dying. He'd even managed to kill off that little boy who'd briefly been a midshipman on the "Indy" but had requested a transfer with his heroes what was his name? Yes, Wellard.
Pellew had just returned from seeing Hornblower in his cell. They had given the boy not one scrap of dignity there was even a slop bucket in the corner! The infernal guard had insisted on locking Pellew in with him in case the lad had made a bolt for freedom he supposed. And this was the boy who had returned to imprisonment in Spain because he had given his parole! He had looked terrible of course. As thin as a rake with huge dark rings under his eyes. Eating nothing and fretting himself to a standstill. He was subject to bouts of melancholy anyway. And now his best friend was dying.
All Pellew had wanted to do was grab him and take him out of that hell-hole. Lord, how the lad loved the wind and the freedom of the ship. He must be suffering the torments of hell in that place. Even so, he had managed to look dignified. He had spoken without one hint of a tremor in his voice.
And what a story he had to tell about that bastard. In his own restrained way of course. Pellew had also interviewed Matthews, Styles and even that good man Bush to fill in the sordid details. Lord, he hoped the lad had pushed Sawyer down the hole! No, of course he didn't want that. The boy's career would be finished. The beautiful career that Pellew had carved out for him. A couple of years as junior Lieutenant on a 74 till he became First. Commander and then Post Captain. God, with his brilliance, the lad could have gone straight from midshipman to Post Captain without a hiccough!
And what does that sly bastard do? Undermine the boy at every step. Killed off one of his topmen. Beaten little Wellard repeatedly for no good reason and made Hornblower watch. Levelled silly accusations of conspiracy at the lad, so that he was put on continuous watch for 36 hours. A veritable death sentence. Had even tried to force the boy to shoot him! Dear God! Matthews and Kennedy forced to watch over him and trying to keep him awake. His professional competence continually mocked. Making up fairy stories, too squeamish, weak-kneed, untrustworthy under fire.
Had that mad bastard read NOTHING in the report Pellew had sent him? Had he read nothing about the Papillon, the plague ship, the fire ship, his escape from El Ferrol and his honourable return. Well, of course he had. Perhaps that was the problem. The green-eyed monster was surely at work here. Pellew had seen Hornblower as a wonderful challenge and asset. If he had done nothing else worthwhile in the service he had faceted this unpolished diamond into a brilliant shining bloody star! And what had Sawyer done? Hidden that star in shadow so that no-one could see it shine. Jealousy. Pure and evil jealousy.
And it wasn't the first time the green-eyed monster had surfaced in the boy's career either. That pervert Simpson had tried to kill him three times. Bolton had beaten the living daylights out of the lad on some trumped up charge of insubordination. God that had made his division mad. In the midst of his present distress a smile tugged at the corners of Pellew's mouth. That big old softie Styles had barged past the startled marine at his cabin door shouting. He would remember the exact words until his dying day:
"SIR! That bastard Bolton has taken't rattan to our Mr. 'Ornblower an' 'e won' lay off 'im!"
Nothing Pellew could do about it of course without undermining his lieutenant. Should have disciplined Styles for showing disrespect to a superior officer, but somehow he'd never got round to it. Actually, he'd been pretty mad himself. He had got rid of Bolton as soon as he decently could, to be replaced by that solid chap Bracegirdle. How he wished he had Bracey and Bowles with him now. Two kindly men of excellent counsel. They knew a good thing when they saw it and they both adored Hornblower. Then there'd been that self-serving idiot Foster who was annoyed with the boy's defiance during the plague ship affair. Got his revenge by setting him that ridiculous scenario for his exam question about Dover Cliffs under his lee and nor-easterlies
In some ways the lad was so easy to undermine. He was always blaming himself for something. Uneasily he remembered bullying him during their first interview, accusing him of not fighting his own battles. He had no idea how the lad tortured himself over the death of Clayton. Matthews told him later that Clayton had knocked him out to stop him facing Simpson and that he had found the lad sobbing that very night when he thought no-one could see him.
The youngster was forever punishing himself for something or other. The "Marie Galante" affair had started it all. He had punished himself for losing his first command by not mentioning the brilliant stroke of the false plot on the chart. Matthews had had to fill him in on that one. More seriously after Kennedy was lost during the Papillon affair, he had dived into a steep self-incriminating depression for months. Bracey and he had to fight tooth and nail to get him out of it and it was a close-run thing. They had given him so many duties it had made the boy's head spin. Bracey had had the bright idea of promoting him to Acting Lieutenant and getting him out of the midshipman berth with all its memories. Then there was the Bunting affair. Got himself so messed up over that he wanted to punish himself by not becoming a lieutenant at all.
The plain fact of the matter was that Pellew just loved the boy. Alright, he loved his brilliance and his quick thinking. What SANE captain wouldn't? But that wasn't all of it. No, not at all. He was a caring lad. He'd seen it himself over and over. Clayton, Davey Williams, Finch, Bunting, the girl in Muzillac. His men just simply adored him, almost from the start. They loved his caring and they loved his courage. Every last man jack of them a die-hard cynic, they loved his sense of honour. Even his jailer Don Massaredo had loved his honour. Had he not persuaded their Excellencies in Madrid to set the lad free to harry their country once again with fire and sword? That's why all his division volunteered to go back to El Ferrol with him. To uphold his bloody honour. And that loyal lad Kennedy, who had already suffered so much.
Lord, how the boy loved Kennedy. They were like two sides of a coin. Courage and brilliance one side, courage and endurance the other. Caring and honour one side, caring and humour the other. Spin a coin. Any captain could only win except that bastard Sawyer. Matthews had told Pellew how Hornblower had fought for Kennedy's soul in El Ferrol. How both youngsters had suffered the tortures of the oubliette. How friendship had triumphed in the face of despair and recrimination.
When Pellew thought of what Kennedy had endured on "Justinian" it made his blood boil. Hornblower only seemed to respect his friend the more for it. He was the only person Hornblower would allow to bring him up safely from his bouts of depression. The lifeline of a smile and a quip. Lord, who was going to take on that job when Kennedy died, as he surely must. Pellew had been to see the lad yesterday. There was no doubt the wound was mortal. Dr. Clive's very demeanour had confirmed it.
Yes he loved the boy, just as he would have loved a son of his own. That was why he'd had to hide it. And shout angry words at him. When every fibre in his body had wanted to hold him and tell him he'd make it alright. To soften his voice as he had after the Muzillac fiasco when the boy had lost his first love. When he was a youngster under his control his Captain could make it alright. Not now. Now the boy was a man. No more tears. And the man had taken it and given it back. Quietly determined that right was on his side. "It was for the good of the service Sir. Hero or not, we were headed for disaster." The days of brow-beating, or even of mock brow-beating, were over.
Murderously, Pellew's own words echoed around his head.
"And unless there are extenuating circumstances, you'll hang. Hang in front of the entire squadron."
A ghastly picture formed itself in his mind and for the first time in decades Pellew sobbed. Sobbed for his surrogate children. For the brilliant Hornblower who he could never call Horatio, for the kindly Kennedy who he could never call Archie and for himself who they would never call father.